A person who sacrifices their time, finances, and energy to glorify God around the globe is to be thanked for their sacrifice in participating in God’s Great Commission. Scripture tells us God has a mission for the church to reach the lost. All Christian disciples are to play a part, be it goer, sender, or prayer.
Nothing in Scripture says only the best and the brightest can be sent to the nations. Missionaries should not be compared to one to another. The only desire is that every participant in missions gives a maximum effort from the ability they possess. If a group of young, unskilled Christians go on a short-term mission trip, they should not be expected to perform like a bunch of seasoned theologians and construction workers.
However, the sad reality is, not every short-term missionary is willing to give their personal best. That is when their efforts, or lack thereof, can be injurious to God’s glory, place others in harm’s way, and cause damage to the fulltime ministry they came to serve. A bad short-term missionary is not defined by their physical ability or biblical knowledge. Being a bad short-term missionary has more to do with the condition of that person’s heart.
The bad short-term missionary quietly protests their temporary lot in the ministry. They dislike the culture, the food, the ministry, or their fellow missionaries. Maybe they romanticized what short-term missions was going to be like, or they were not properly informed ahead of time. The result is, they are unhappy and they going to rebel by not giving their best effort and plan to simply endure the mission trip instead of making the best of it.
They do not heed the safety warnings and put themselves and others at risk. They may feign illness or over-dramatize a minor injury to get out of service. The don’t eat the food, don’t interact with the nationals, and do no more than asked of them. Their body posture betrays their displeasure. They remove themselves from duty and simply try to survive their short-term missions experience.
This short-term missionary dislikes their conditions, the ministry, or the culture and they sow seeds of discontent among fulltime or other short-term missionaries. They gossip, and try to quietly win allies to their position. They make poor decisions which are contrary to the long-term ministry’s standards or desires.
This missionary creates additional work for their fellow short-term missionaries and the long-term ministry. Instead, of doing a ministry as they are instructed, they do what they think is right. They believe their way is best and ignore the instructions given by those who live in the culture. They publicly challenge authority. They continue to go beyond the safety limits and ministry boundaries established. Their actions and attitude, at minimum, create an uncomfortable experience for others, and may do harm to the long-term ministry.
Don’t Call Us, We Won’t Call You
This is a short-term missionary whose words and actions undermine the fulltime ministry as they choose to do things their way. They were properly briefed and educated before they arrived and after they started their short-term mission trip. However, they believe their perspective is the right way and they continue to argue and debate their points. Even though their task has been made clear from the start, they never had any intention of doing things the way they were asked. They continue to challenge and change the schedule, the ministry, and their duties even though their purpose was clearly conveyed by the long-term ministry.
They criticize the culture, the schedule, and the long-term ministry. Because this short-term missionary did things their way the long-term ministry must spend valuable time and finances to repair their mistakes after they have gone. They have damaged the ministry and created additional work. In the short-time they were in the country they created harm to relationships with nationals which may have taken years to establish, and will now take more time to fix. Their arrogant approach to believing they know best has added to the cultures already tenuous view of North Americans and other missionaries’ negative view of short-term missions.
The problem with a bad short-term missionary has next to nothing to do with their ability or their service. The damage is done by a bad short-term missionary through the condition of their heart. They have ignored one of the primary requirements for all Christians: a heart inclined to serve others. A missionary who has the heart of a servant, is worth her weight in gold. A missionary who has a discontented heart will not only damage a long-term ministry, but their actions may do damage to God’s glory as well as the word’s view of missions. It is the heart of the bad short-term missionary which causes the greatest damage.
It doesn’t take much to slip from being a good short-term missionary to a bad short-term missionary. The slippage of the heart, from that of service to selfishness is all it takes. However, to fall from bad to “don’t call us, we won’t call you” takes a calculated effort. If a short-term missionary simply keeps tabs on his heart he can glorify God, and benefit his global ministry.
NOTE: This is a companion article to What A Great Short-Term Missionary Looks Like, which ran on January 3, 2017.